The BBC board will look into conflicts of interest involving the appointment of its chairman Richard Sharp amid claims he was helped Boris Johnson secure a £800,000 credit line.
Announcing the review, Mr Sharp said he wanted to ensure “all the appropriate guidelines have been followed” and has asked the BBC board’s nominations committee to review the matter.
Labour is demanding an investigation following a Sunday Times report that Mr Sharp introduced the loan guarantor, multimillionaire Canadian Sam Blyth, to the cabinet secretary Simon Case.
Mr Sharp is said to have had dinner with Mr Johnson and Mr Blyth at Chequers before the credit line was finalised in the weeks before he was recommended for the BBC job by the then-prime minister.
The BBC chairman has denied any conflict of interest. In a statement to the broadcasters’ employees on Monday, he called the row had become “a distraction for the organisation, which I regret”.
Rishi Sunak’s government has insisted that the appointment of the BBC chairman Richard Sharp was above board. The Cabinet Office rejected claims that there may have been an undeclared conflict of interest.
“Richard Sharp was appointed as chairman of the BBC following a rigorous appointments process including assessment by a panel of experts, constituted according to the public appointments code,” a Cabinet Office spokesperson said.
They added: “There was additional pre-appointment scrutiny by a House of Commons Select Committee which confirmed Mr Sharp’s appointment. All the correct recruitment processes were followed.”
Labour has written to Daniel Greenberg, parliamentary commissioner for standards, about whether a conflict of interest should have been declared by Mr Johnson.
Sir Keir Starmer’s party has also written to William Shawcross, the commissioner for public appointments, asking him to investigate Mr Sharp’s appointment.
And the Lib Dems said Mr Johnson should be stripped of the ex-PM allowance of up to £115,000 a year until he answers questions about his financial arrangements while at No 10.
Former civil service chief Sir Bob Kerslake said there was “no question” that there appeared to be a conflict of interest – describing the reported involvement of Mr Sharp in loan talks as an “important departure from what should really happen”.
Asked whether he accepted that there was no conflict of interest over the matter, the former Labour adviser told Times Radio: “No, I’m afraid I don’t. It is a conflict, no question in my mind.”
Roger Mosey, former head of BBC Television News, said he was sceptical as to whether Mr Sharp was the best candidate to be appointed the broadcaster’s chairman.
“If you look at all the people in the whole of the UK in an appointment process, was Richard Sharp the one with the editorial and journalistic and media industry nous? I simply raise an eyebrow,” he told Times Radio.
“He may have been, but I think the outcome was surprising, maybe, if you’re looking for someone who has knowledge of handling the BBC.”
A spokesperson for Mr Johnson dismissed the Sunday Times report as “rubbish”, saying the former PM had not asked Mr Sharp for financial advice and that his financial arrangements “have been properly declared”.
Asked about Mr Johnson’s private dinner with Mr Sharp and Mr Blyth the spokesperson said: “So what? Big deal.”
Mr Sharp, a Tory donor, told the Sunday Times: “There is not a conflict when I simply connected, at his request, Mr Blyth with the cabinet secretary and had no further involvement whatsoever.”
On Sunday foreign secretary James Cleverly insisted that Mr Sharp had been given his BBC job on “merit”. Suggesting that the appointment was nothing to do with ties to Mr Johnson or the Tories, he added: “We’ve had senior people in the BBC who have political affiliations.”